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Lawn Mowers and Noise Pollution


It's a familiar scene: we've finished preparing dinner and my family settles down on our backyard patio for a relaxing summer meal.  Just as I take my first bite, the next-door neighbor powers up his lawn mower.  We groan and carry our plates back inside.


According to the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse (NPC), the 85 to 90 decibels of noise produced by a typical gas-powered mower can be heard a quarter mile away or more.  In other words, mowing a quarter-acre lot with a gas-powered mower pollutes 100 acres of neighborhood with noise.[1]  When our neighbor mows his lawn, he isn't disturbing just the family next door.  He is drowning out birdsong throughout our entire neighborhood. 


Should I advise him that the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) both recommend that he limit his exposure to noises as loud as his average mower to 15 minutes a day?[2]  He isn't wearing ear protection and neither are we.  We chose to go inside to avoid the noise and exhaust, but my neighbor risks damaging his hearing by exposing himself to 85+ decibels for more than 15 minutes.


The United States government does not regulate neighborhood noise pollution.  "In 1982, the Reagan administration closed the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Noise Abatement and dropped noise-emission labeling on such items as power tools and lawnmowers."[3]  And so we must be self-motivated to make wise choices for lawn maintenance and neighborhood tranquility.


Fortunately, there is a resource to help educate consumers about quieter lawn maintenance.  In a Summer 2005 Special Report, the NPC tested more than 80 pieces of lawn equipment for noise.[4]  According to their findings, the quietest type of lawn mower, by far, is the human-powered reel mower.


By using a reel mower, not only will you avoid walking in the exhaust stream of a gas-powered engine, you will also be able to hear children playing in the backyard and squirrels chattering across the street.  And your neighbors will thank you after they finish their patio dinner in peace and quiet. 

[1]Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, Special Report: Summer 2005, http://www.nonoise.org/library/qz/QuietLawns05.pdf.

[2]Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, Special Report: Summer 2005, http://www.nonoise.org/library/qz/QuietLawns05.pdf.

[3]Sternberg, Ilene, "Life on a Large Lot," The Washington Post: Thursday, August 19, 2004; page H01 [accessed at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A10867-2004Aug18.htmlon June 8, 2008].

[4]The entire report can be viewed at http://www.nonoise.org/library/qz/QuietLawns05.pdf.

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